When the principal asked me in May to become mentor for SG, (Special Girl) I asked for a week to think it over. I knew of the girl, her former teachers as well as her SNA (Special Needs Assistant) – but I had a few questions I needed answered. First and foremost, I wanted to find out more about her SNA, who was rumored to have problems with cooperating. I was given reassurances that this was not really a big problem – she merely wanted to be involved in everything concerning SG. Since I thought this assignment would be challenging and a change of pace, I accepted and began to read up on her syndrome and whatever else felt important.
At the beginning of this school year we were to sit down together and do some planning together – SNA, myself and a few other teachers involved in SG’s education. It did not go very well. SNA sneered and complained that she was not allowed to spend all of her time with SG. She felt it was totally wrong to introduce any new faces (as in mine…) unless it was done over an extended period of at least 4 months… Any suggestions from my side were ridiculed because I just didn’t know what SG could do or what her limitations were… That first meeting was a disaster and I had a long talk with my principal afterwards. I was asked to tread lightly, as SNA was experiencing separation anxiety after having spent 8 years with SG. I suggested it was more of an effort to ensure she would be indispensable for SG than anything else…
I really tried working with SNA during the following months to make sure that we would do our best for SG, but wasn’t very successful. SNA would not forward information to me from the parents or vice versa. This meant I was made to look like a fool a few times – such as when SG and her mother took off for a weeklong holiday and I knew nothing about it until 2 days before they were leaving. When the principal requested a follow-up meeting regarding SG and her schooling, SNA wanted a union representative present. When asked why, she claimed that she was being treated badly by the entire staff. This was around the same time as a bunch of staff cuts were announced (SNA was on the list of people to be laid off or moved to another position – so the principal AND the head of schools postponed the meeting indefinitely… I protested, but was asked to grin and bear it for another 2 months.
I did – but not with a happy heart. As far as I was concerned, SG was the one being shortchanged in this mess. Any attempts at leaving Middle School material behind and moving on to things more suited for a teenager was scoffed at because “She’ll never be able to do that” – Her speech training was lagging behind because “She’s always said basgetti” – She was being treated as if she still was 9-10 years old because “She’ll never become independent.”
Need I tell you more? SNA left at the end of term to go onto a similar job in a bigger city. I was not sorry to see her leave – but I was a bit concerned how things would work with a new SNA. I know it’s too early to tell and we are sure to have setbacks – but SG was a very happy girl today when we launched a new term with a new SNA.
What about the principal and head of schools, you ask? I feel they both shirked their responsibilities on this one – although I can understand parts of the background. SG came from another school where her SNA had been allowed to Lord it over everyone during a number of years. In other words, poor management. Add to this no record of previous problems concerning her conduct and labor legislation which requires just that. A dismissal on wrongful grounds becomes very costly for any employer under those conditions. On top of that the impending cutbacks – you see where this is going, don’t you?
I still feel SG is the one who paid for all this. She has been denied the opportunity to develop to her full potential during the past few years (or more?) so now we have to make sure she gets every chance possible to make up for lost time. We’re a good team around her now, all of us working for her best – but how I wish we would have been “on her team” 3 years ago already!